- Celebrity couple Coleen Garcia and Billy Crawford had a prenup shoot in the African country of Ethiopia
- The photos drew flak for its distasteful use of local women and children as background
- The couple finally issued a statement addressing the issue
Coleen Garcia and Billy Crawford earned the ire of netizens for their prenup photos which were shot in Ethiopia.
Among others, netizens criticized the shoot for being distasteful and for cultural appropriation.
In some of the photos, Coleen and Billy stood tall and elegant while they were surrounded by local women and children in the background.
Before 7 in the evening on March 11, the couple issued a statement to ABS-CBN entertainment reporter MJ Felipe, who posted it on his Twitter page.
Billy explained that they were invited and sponsored by Ethiopian Airlines for a photoshoot as part of their tourism campaign.
He said a local guide accompanied them throughout the entire shoot and even on their leisure time.
According to their statement, the photos were based on some of the suggestions of their local guides, who wanted to include some of the people.
"The locals were so kind, warm, and welcoming, and they love meeting tourists. They even gave us some items of clothing to add to our shoot, for which they showed so much support."
Billy also explained how the kids got included in the shots.
"Yung shot with the kids, actually patapos na kaming magshoot noon na kaming dalawa lang and we just needed to get a few shots in, but naaliw yung kids (who were already there) and they really wanted to be a part of the photo so they kept coming into the frame hanggang sa sinama na nina Oly."
A local, who thought the kids were being a nuisance to the photoshoot, tried shooing the kids away.
"But we felt differently and natuwa din naman kami sa mga bata kaya we told the man na it's okay, and we let them be a part of the photo despite it not being part of the plan, and we even showed the photos to them after."
Billy reiterated that they didn't mean any disrespect or racism.
"We never forced anyone nor wanted to disrespect any race or culture. People in the Philippines felt disrespected and offended, but being there was a completely different feeling."
He also addressed comments on their extravagant attire in the background of poverty.
"May mga nagsasabi na bihis na bihis kami, but we did go there pre-styled for a fashion shoot, and everything else followed spontaneously."
The singer-host also explained that almost all of their photos were just the two of them. There were only a handful of photos that were offensive for others and were immediately taken down.
"Every time we look at the photos, we remember how we got to interact with the locals while we were there, and it's something truly memorable for all of us, including the team. We had so many positive encounters, kaya siguro hindi agad pumasok sa isip namin.
"The children weren't sad and oppressed, they were so friendly and curious. When we looked at the photos, we didn't see slavery or racism at all, lalo na when you take all the rest of the photos in consideration."
After explaining the story behind the shoot, Billy said they also understood were the criticism was coming from.
"It's sad that the tendency is to jump to conclusions, but we understand din kasi nga they were not there to witness everything. And looking at it from their perspective, we do still see where they are coming from. Completely."
In the end, Billy apologized for their shortcoming and reiterated that they did not mean to offend.
"It might not even be about the photos per se, but more on how it comes across and what it could represent. Being public figures, dito kami nagkulang and we admit we could have done better.
"Kaya, we do apologize for how it might have translated, and we're sorry again to those we have offended."
Billy ended their statement with a personal experience: "I grew up in a very diverse city (Roosevelt Island), and had experienced bullying and racism in my youth because of my being "an Asian". Trust me, we meant no harm."
The controversial photoshoot was done around September in 2017.
Some of the photos were shared on social media as early as last year.
However, the offending photos only surfaced this week.
Billy and Coleen are set to tie the knot this coming April.
They got engaged in December 2016.
They fell in love while working with each other on ABS-CBN's noontime show It's Showtime.
They made their relationship public in 2014.
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